The average American will eat 130 lbs of sugar every year during his or her lifetime. That’s a 650% increase over the 20 lbs per year that was consumed, on average, back in 1820. And while we all know that processed sugar is linked to a long list of health issues like diabetes, hypertension, headaches and depression it also contributes to a sort of dumbing down of our taste buds. The more sugar we eat, the more conditioned we become to it, and the less of it we actually taste.
Kenton Whitman has a lot to say on the subject of processed sugar and its stealthy partners, salt and fat. Whitman is the man behind ReWild University, a Wisconsin-based school for re-integrating human hunter-gatherer wisdom and “learning to live consciously in the world.” He’s one of a handful of people leading a movement to awaken some of our latent wild instincts and to develop an appreciation for our place in the natural world. One step in the process is rewilding how we appreciate flavor.
“Sugar actually decreases the pleasure we get from food,” Whitman says. “In very tiny amounts, it can enhance flavors, but it’s easily overused to the extent where it masks the true flavors of food. Instead of tasting the actual food, we just taste the sugar, and find ourselves craving more.”
We’re somewhere in the hills outside Seattle, Washington. I’d tell you where, exactly…but then I’d have to kill you.
Entering an undisclosed forest in the Pacific Northwest to find golden chanterelles.
This is golden chanterelle season. We hike through a mousse of gray fog, into a forest of Douglas fir trees. In the Pacific Northwest, chanterelles have a mycorrhizal relationship with Douglas firs; the mushrooms feed on sugars from the tree and the tree, in turn, provides nutrients for the mushrooms (on the east coast and in California, the mushrooms tend to grow under oaks).
Regardless of the type of host, chanterelles are only found at the base of live trees. We learn this from our guide, Matt Stoecker, an amateur mycologist, who has been foraging in the Pacific Northwest for 21 years. He learned about mushrooms as an undergraduate at Oberlin College, from Dr. David Miller. He also credits a large amount of outside reading and in-the-field experience (literally), for much of his knowledge.
We drive through the perfectly manicured shopping-mall-landscape of Orange County and exit onto the post-apocalyptic emptiness of the Portola parkway. The world begins to change from lush green to thirsty brown. A few turns later, we’re headed into the mountains: rising hills and scrubby underbrush, cyclists, trucks and signs that warn of wildlife crossings for the next two miles. Then the steep shoulders give way to small parking lots; dry, dusty canyons and sage-covered hills turn into the tiny community of Silverado, CA.
Joel Robinson, founder of Naturalist For You, leads groups on foraging expeditions in rural Orange County and many other areas.
This is where we meet Joel Robinson, the naturalist and professional forager who will take us on an edible tour of the woods.
There’s no mistaking him as he walks up to us in the parking lot of the Silverado Café: He appears to be in his early thirties. His dark, shaggy brown hair expands outward from under his Ojai Valley Land Conservancy cap, and he has a beard and moustache to match. He’s got a weathered backpack slung over one shoulder, dangling a pair of old running shoes from a strap. He’s barefoot.